The Miami-Dade school district gave NBC 6 South Florida a rare, behind-the-scenes tour of its information and technology security center, where technicians detected and repelled a major cyber attack last week.
“My guess would be they were trying to disrupt the testing,” explains Debbie Karcher, Chief Information Officer.
Last week’s rollout of the new Florida State Assessment test was plagued by computer issues at the state level, and it turns out locally, hackers tried to flood the Miami-Dade system at the same time.
“They have services that start sending a lot of data to our systems and can clog it,” said Karcher.
In the old days, a kid who didn’t want to take a test might pull the school fire alarm as a way of getting out of it. The experts here say last week’s cyber attack may have been a modern, sophisticated version of pulling the fire alarm.
“It’s just so much worse because the impact it has, it hits everybody, it’s not just one school, it’s the entire district,” Karcher said.
“This attack was of a nature that could have been done by a very intelligent student,” added Chief Security Officer Ed McAuliff. “It could’ve also been done by somebody outside the district.”
The system is often attacked from outside the district. The staff showed NBC 6 South Florida a monitor showing infiltration attempts and explained that on Wednesday alone, more than two thousand hack attempts from Russia. McAuliff says Chinese hackers also are a constant threat.
He says they try to get into American IT systems to use them as bases to launch more cyber attacks.
“Sony was attacked recently, these attacks happen, it’s not a matter of if you’re ever gonna be attacked, it’s when you’re gonna be attacked, and what you can do to minimize the impact of the attack,” McAuliff said.
The district's IT center relies on multiple layers of cyber protection, with one factor always in mind.
“Our number one priority legally and morally is the protection of our students,” says McAuliff.